AVON, Ind. (WISH) — Indiana is seeing low to no flu cases in pediatric offices across the state as COVID-19 pandemic precautions keep families indoors, wearing masks, and washing hands.
Dr. Jamie Shmalo says he can’t speak for all of his partners at Pediatric Associates of Avon, but he hasn’t had a positive flu swab in months. He also notes a significant decrease in viruses like RSV, hand-foot-and-mouth disease, and roseola.
“One big spreader is children and kids are wearing masks in school. People are vaccinated for it as well,” Dr. Shmalo explained. “The numbers are way down.”
One effect of this trend is obviously positive: fewer sick people.
“In our patient population, influenza can be pretty serious. Kids get hospitalized, there can be pneumonia as a complication that can be serious so obviously seeing those numbers go down can be really good,” he said.
However, Dr. Shmalo explained there are some negative consequences of a quiet flu and cold season: low immunity for his youngest patients.
“It is good that kids at some point come in contact with some viruses so they build immunity,” he said. “Some immunity may go down from us not being in contact with these viruses and if we let our guard down and go back to normal there’s a possibility we might see a big season with a lot of flu and other similar viruses.”
He says virus activity post-pandemic will depend heavily on if people continue healthy hygiene practices picked up during the pandemic, like staying home when you’re sick. Otherwise, he compared returning to public post-pandemic like starting a new daycare. People will likely go home with new bacteria and viruses on day one.
As for the accuracy of data, Dr. Shmalo admitted that the pandemic has altered his inclinations to test for the flu. If a patient comes in with flu-like symptoms, he says he’s more likely to test for COVID-19 than the flu since COVID-19 is more deadly.
The numbers are still staggering: the Indiana Department of Health reports three flu-related deaths so far this season, compared to 38 this time last flu season.
Still, Dr. Shmalo continues to recommend his patients get a flu shot this year. He notes last year’s flu season picked up dramatically in February and March so he says even though the numbers are down now, they may rise before the flu season is over.
For the latest flu statistics, visit the flu data sheet on the Indiana Department of Health’s website.